How to Give and Receive Friendly Feedback

Posted by Joseph Sherren on April 22, 2015

During the first break of a four-hour workshop with over 100 attendees, the meeting planner ran over to me and gave minute-by-minute feedback on what he thought went great and his opinions on what he would have done differently. He did it again at the second break, as well at the end of the session.

As a speaker I certainly appreciate constructive feedback, however, it just wasn’t the right time. This type of unsolicited feedback can be distracting when the focus should be on the attendees and fine tuning the content of the next session.

As well, participants who were hoping to meet with me and ask personal questions during these times were disappointed since I was otherwise occupied.

Another example of poor timing is when feedback is saved up until the Annual Performance Review – an out-of-date, institutionalized process for giving feedback.

Here, we save our comments and document the things we noted about a person’s performance. Then, like a big cat ready to pounce, the manager brings a hapless employee into the office and springs a year’s worth of “constructive criticism” onto him or her.

Feedback when done properly, is often called the “breakfast of champions” in that high performers will often ask for and accept feedback specifically for the purpose of improving their performance, processes, and relationships.

To give effective feedback which will be graciously accepted, follow these proven methods:

  1. Be timely. Give your feedback shortly after the behavior is shown. Never give negative feedback in front of others or when they are focusing on something else.
  2. Ask if it’s wanted before starting. Feedback is best delivered when the other person is in a position to listen. As well, your purpose should be toward aiding their improvement.
  3. Phrase an “I” statement. Questions suggest that they have to do something about it. Simply state the observed behavior and use “I” statements to allow them to see what effect the behavior had on you.
  4. Be descriptive. Tell them what you saw them do or say. Give specific examples so that the behavior is well understood and can be acted upon.
  5. Don’t exaggerate. Words such as “always, never, everybody, nobody” leave lots of room for argument. Base your feedback on facts or data, not on personal opinion.
  6. Be positive, honest and direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Speak from the heart. Remember, you give feedback because you are truly concerned about the person.

If you are the one receiving feedback:

  1. Suggest a more appropriate time. Negative feedback at the wrong time can actually cause employees to lose focus and make even more errors.
  2. Actively listen. Don’t become defensive or argumentative. Ask for specific examples or question for clarity.
  3. Think about it. Acknowledge the valid points.
  4. Ask for help to improve. Many times, we aren’t even aware of how our behavior impacts the team dynamic.

You can use these methods to tell your teammates when they have done something well. As your team becomes more comfortable with giving and receiving both positive and negative feedback, the team will move toward higher levels of engagement.

Jack Welsh (of GE) once said “Candid feedback … is the kindest thing a manager can do in any situation”.

My question for managers this week: “Are you providing on-going, well-meaning, constructive, and effective feedback that is sincerely meant to help your employees improve?”

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